In NLP we act as if we have six main ways of thinking, or ‘representing’ or processing information i.e. our 5 senses plus our ability to think through self talk and analysis. We call these representational systems, or rep systems. Of the six the most commonly used are seeing, hearing, feeling and self talk – since few people use the smell and taste senses as a means of thinking.
(NLP and representational systems was the topic for our Monday to Friday NLP Twitter Tips on @pegasusnlp for the week ending 24 February so the 5 Tips are expanded here.)
Tip 1: Pegasus NLP Tip: Rep systems. How we use our 5 senses, including analytical thinking (Ad) to receive information, process it, & communicate.
When you walk into a room full of people what are you first aware of…
Visual: What you see such as the people, the colours, the movements, individual faces?
Auditory: What you hear e.g. The buzz or murmur of conversation, high and low voices, laughs, tinkle of glasses or cutlery
Kinaesthetic: What you feel such as the temperature of the room, the internal feelings evoked by the situation, the feeling of the floor or the furnishings?
Auditory Digital: Your own internal chatter: I like this, what are they for example what you feel such as thinking of me, what an opportunity to meet people, I want to be out of here?
It’s likely that you will pay more attention to one of these ‘rep systems’ than to the others i.e. that you will specialise in one system.
Let’s say you pay most attention to what you see. And let’s say it’s a week later and you are chatting with someone else who in the same room and this person specialises in feelings. You will remember things they won’t even have registered and vice versa. It can be as if you were in different rooms! The topic of NLP Rep Systems is included in our 5-day introductory NLP Core Skills course - there are articles on the NLP Eye Movements (or NLP Eye Assessing Cues) and here and here.)
Tip 2: Pegasus NLP Tip: Rep systems provide insight into person’s personality e.g. how they like/dislike, learn, understand, chose what to buy, etc
Tip 3: Pegasus NLP Tip: To discover person’s favourite rep system observe their eye movements, listen to tonality + the ‘sense’ words & phrases most used
Tip 4: Pegasus NLP Tip: Use the person’s own favourite rep system to better connect with them. With groups use variety: see, hear, feel, analytical
Knowing which rep system a person specialises in – their ‘favourite rep system’ – helps us to better understand how they think and how they experience events and situations. And this, in turn, enables us to improve how we communicate with them.
If I recognise that you are thinking mainly visually in a particular situation then I can talk about visual images, speak more quickly, tell you stories (which evoke images), show you pictures, ask you questions about your “views” on the situation, etc.
Or, if I recognise that you are mainly processing kinaesthetically, I can talk about feelings, chat with you while walking or moving around, and speak more slowly to allow you to check your feelings about the subject.
For thousands of years people have communicated satisfactorily without knowing about rep systems! In the same way that they managed through the ages without air travel or the internet or electricity.
Being able to recognise and utilise rep systems makes communication easier and more effective for both parties. And this knowledge is particularly important when people are stressed or pressured.
Most of the time we ‘translate’ effortlessly e.g. I can be thinking and talking using the auditory rep system even though you may be specialising in the visual system yet we get along fine. This is usually because we use all four systems more easily and without even being aware of this.
But when life gets stressful we tend to retreat into our comfort zone and expect other people to adapt to us. Now we will stick to our favourite rep system almost to the exclusion of the others. For example, if I specialise in the kinaesthetic (feelings) system I’ll become quite wrapped up in my feelings and sensations and won’t be prepared to discuss things rationally (auditory digital), listen to what you have to say (auditory), or even pay attention to what’s happening around them (visual).
When people are experiencing stress being able to use their favourite rep system makes for much more effective communication.
Tip 5: Pegasus NLP Tip: Remember nobody is ‘a visual person’ nor an auditory etc. It’s just the rep system they use most & this is often contextual
If Jill uses the visual system a lot that’s all it is – something she uses a lot. And favourite rep systems can change with circumstances. It’s not uncommon for someone to have a different favourite rep system, for example, at work versus at home.
When they first learn about NLP rep systems some people set out to analyse other people and label them as auditories or visuals etc. If they notice that you are thinking visually in a particular situation or about a particular topic, you’ve had it. You’ll suddenly become “a visual” – and will forever remain in your box as A Visual! Or Kinaesthetic or an Auditory or an Auditory Digital.
Sadly this process of attaching labels to people and putting them into ‘rep system boxes’ indicates a limited understanding of NLP. Someone’s favourite rep system can change from one situation to another and can even change in the course of a conversation.
Knowing about rep systems can be immensely valuable which is why it is one of the topics explored in our NLP Core Skills training programme in the New Forest. It can enable us to understand people’s strange or irrational behaviour. It can enable us to extend our own ability to experience the world and to communicate with others by developing in ourselves the systems which we don’t currently use very much. And it can enable us to coach or teach people in a way that suits their thinking style.